Tuesday, 17 April 2012

O is for ... Olympics

Yes, yes we're hosting the Olympics this year and we're all very excited, but you don't want to read about THAT, do you?

(In case you were wondering, you want to read about the ancient Olympic Games)

Aha, the ancient Olympics, you say? How funny you should mention them, I was just about to write a bloglet on that very subject. Spooky.

So, as far as we're aware, things all kicked off rather humbly in 776BC/BCE when a cook named Coroebus won the only event in the Olympic Games: the 190m sprint (random distance, I know, but they hadn't quite got round to inventing the metric system). From then on, popularity for the games spread rapidly with more events being added and more competitors taking part each time.

The games, which were held every four years - just like the modern version, became so popular that any wars going on (and this was ancient Greece - they loved a good war) would be temporarily stopped so that athletes and their families could travel safely.

Women weren't allowed to compete in the games (but before we start flinging the 'bloody misogynistic gits' phrase around, neither were slaves or foreigners. Those charming Greeks were just as xenophobic and ... doulophobic - yes I've made that second one up - as they were misogynistic).

So basically no girls allowed. Married women weren't even allowed to watch the games (presumably because they should be cooking or cleaning or generally keeping out of the way) and anyone caught doing so could be put to death. Nice.

It wasn't all doom and gloom for women, though. They had their own games which they could take part in, called the Heraia (in honour of the goddess Hera). The Heraean Games consisted only of foot races. How nice.

Back at the Olympic Games, some new and, quite frankly, insane events were being introduced.

Pentathlon - just as the modern event, comprised five different sports. Long jump, javelin, discus, a sprint and wrestling. Was considered the toughest event and was used by the military to prepare young soldiers for the battlefield.

Running - exactly what it says on the tin; various different distances.

Hoplitodromos - running, but while wearing full hoplite armour (because that sounds like an entirely sensible idea). Armour probably weighed over 50lbs/23kg.

Long jump - yeah, so what? We have long jump today. Yes, we do, but athletes today aren't allowed to use halteres (lead weights) which are held in each hand and give extra momentum. Those crazy Greeks.

Discus - Similar to today's event, except athletes could choose the size and weight of their discus. There was also none of that spinning around malarky; athletes were permitted to take a single step before flinging the discus. (I'm pretty sure one 'flings' a discus).

Javelin - Again, similar to today's version. As well as the competition for distance, there was also one for accuracy, in which athletes would throw the javelin at a target WHILE RIDING A HORSE.

Boxing - No weight limits and categories. A fight only stopped when one of the competitors was unable to carry on.

Wrestling - Men were separated from boys, but apart from that there were no weight divisions.

Pankration - The most insane of the ancient Olympic events. A combination of boxing and wrestling which banned only biting and eye-gouging. Serious injury and death were common.

I don't really know how to finish this bloglet. How does one follow a sport which only banned biting and eye-gouging?

The tunnel to the ancient Olympic stadium


  1. Passing by on the A-Z trail. Only to discover I'm paying a return visit after you dropped in on me. With the same subject matter. Pankration sounds ripe for revival. You wait, someone will suggest it as a trial sport.

    Will be back to read the other entries when my brain is less fried.

  2. i love learning history--and the olympics is a particularly fun subject to learn about.
    Happy A-Zing!

  3. interesting post! And I'll pass on participating in the pankration :)